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Italy

With more than 2,000 grape varieties growing throughout Italy, it can be a monumental challenge for the American wine drinker to figure out which Italian wine to grab off the shelf. Here's a refresher on a few of Italy's most popular regions and the top wines to look for within each.

Piedmont: The northwestern corner of Italy provides some of the country's most celebrated—and pricey—red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco. Easier drinking, less expensive reds from this renowned region are Barbera and Dolcetto.

Veneto: In northeastern Italy, the Veneto is home to Valpolicella and Bardolino, dry reds that can, from the best producers, not only be superb, but represent great value, too. Soave is one of Italy's most popular dry whites, but because quality can be inconsistent you may want to audition a few to find the best. Something exotic? Splurge for a bottle of ultra-dense and chewy red Amarone, made from grapes partially dried on wooden racks.

Tuscany: Hands down, Chianti is the most popular wine of the region. Yes, you'll still see it in those cutesy straw-lined bottles (usually containing achingly dull wine), but you can also find plenty of great tasting, reasonably priced Chianti in conventional wine bottles, as well. For highest quality, look for Chianti labeled Classico or Rufina—two prominent sub regions. One of the greatest red wines of Tuscany is breathtakingly expensive Brunello di Montalcino.

Friuli: Known mostly as a region producing varietal wines (named after a grape variety rather than a region or style), Friuli is best known for providing the world with boatloads of ever-popular Pinot Grigio.

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